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Religion courses help students understand differing traditions

By Katherine Hedland Hansen '88

The study of religion helps people understand their own religious convictions and how religion is intertwined with social issues, politics, and the economy. PLU's Department of Religion helps students appreciate both.

Especially now, when religion figures prominently in many global conflicts and domestic debates, the study of religion is crucial to a liberal arts education, said Patricia O'Connell Killen, chair of the department.

“How are people going to live with difference?” Killen asked. “They can't without coming to understand their own religiousness and religions other than their own.”

Professors Peter Trudinger, Marit Trelstad and Bob Stivers.

PLU's religion department is recognized as the best, most comprehensive undergraduate program in the Northwest. It offers substantial literacy in Christianity—biblical studies, church history, ethics and theology—as well as courses in the history of religions and the interdisciplinary study of religion. Some courses contribute to PLU's interdisciplinary programs and many have an international focus.

The department's program is rooted in the ideals of Lutheran higher education, including academic freedom and open-minded questioning. PLU and the department strive to be hospitable places for students of other faiths or no faith.

All PLU students are required to take two religion courses. Majors and minors delve more deeply into the study of religion. Majors go on to an array of careers from international development to social work, education or ministry. One graduate organized an interfaith council in her community after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Faculty members are committed to great teaching, to scholarly research and to talking with students about big questions in their lives. The department does not sponsor ministry or worship. These are handled by Campus Ministry. When invited, faculty preach in chapel, advise student religious organizations and participate in on-campus programs about religion and spirituality.

The department is in major transition, with the retirements of several longtime faculty members and the hiring of replacements. Of the 10 faculty members, six have been at PLU less than five years. Two more retirements are imminent.

To address the transition and to pass on its heritage of excellent teaching, the department secured a $42,000 grant from the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion that supported two years of workshops and reflection on teaching religion.

“We're bringing forward the best of the past and looking forward to the future,” Killen said.

In the fall the department received another grant for $49,000 from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans to pilot a possible Center for Religion, Cultures and Society in the Western United States that will increase understanding of religion's regional dynamics, especially its influence on the health and welfare of communities. This project continues the department's long-standing commitment to public education and to supporting congregations and clergy of the ELCA and its ecumenical partners.

Faculty members also are recognized for their extensive research and publications. Killen is a sought-after national source on contemporary Christianity and religion in the Northwest and the U.S. Professor Douglas Oakman speaks internationally on the social world of the New Testament, and his book

“Palestine in the Time of Jesus” was just published in Italian.

Professor Paul Ingram, an expert in world religions, has spoken frequently on understanding Islam since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He received the 2003 Book of the Year Award from Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies for “The Sound of Liberating Truth: Buddhist-Christian Dialogues in Honor of Frederick J. Streng.”

Professors Robert Stivers, John Peterson, Peter Trudinger and Killen have had books appear during the past year. All faculty have published articles or books and are engaged in scholarly research in addition to their commitment to the classroom. (A complete list of faculty publications can be found at Scene Online.) Professors Suzanne Crawford and Samuel Torvend have funded student-faculty research projects under way.

Department faculty also are heavily involved in other campus projects. Several contributed to PLU 2010. Killen, Oakman and Torvend helped design the $2 million Wild Hope Project exploring vocation. Killen co-authored and co-directs the project. Professor Alicia Batten provides

leadership in the Global Studies Program and Peace Studies Initiative. Professors Marit Trelstad and Kathlyn Breazeale help lead the Women's Studies Program. Trelstad is involved in the PLU-Norway-Namibia project.

“We've built a truly excellent department, and people recognize that,” Killen said. “It's a privilege to be part of a department that is solidly grounded in PLU's Lutheran heritage, committed to excellence in teaching, scholarship and service, and advancing PLU's global emphasis through teaching about religion in the world.”


Janet Holmgren, Paloma Martínez-Carbajo and Bridget Yaden, all from the Department of Languages and Literatures, gave presentations at the conference of the Washington Association of Foreign Language Teachers in Wenatchee in October.

Richard Nance, professor of music, published settings of “Like As The Hart Desireth the Waterbrooks,” “Psalm 36” and “Hodie Christus Natus Est” through Walton Music. Hinshaw Music published his “Songs of Celebration” for mixed chorus and brass quartet.

A joint paper by Dane Wu, professor of mathematics, and Laura Bangerter '03 titled “An Alternate Approach to the Total Probability Formula,” was accepted to be published in the International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology.

Richard Nance, professor of music

Wu also published two papers in peer-reviewed journals. One paper on applications of conditional probability was published in the International Journal of Mathematical Sciences, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2003. The other paper on how to measure advertising effectiveness appeared in the winter 2003 issue of Marketing Management Journal.

Chung-Shing Lee, associate professor of business and ePLU director, published a book chapter “Business Model Innovation in the Digital Economy” in “Social and Economic Transformation in the Digital Era.” The chapter presents methods to assist business executives and entrepreneurs in evaluating and building business models in the digital economy.

Dean Waldow, professor of chemistry, gave an oral presentation titled “Implementing a Research-Rich Laboratory Experience in Physical Chemistry: Thermodynamics and Kinetics” at the Washington College Chemistry Teachers Association. He was also an invited panelist for a discussion with four-year college faculty on integrating research into the undergraduate curriculum.

Religion professor John Petersen's book “Reading Women's Stories: Female Characters in the Hebrew Bible” was published in November by Fortress Press.

Dean Waldow, professor chemistry

Robert Stivers, professor of religion, published his book “Christian Environmental Ethics: A Case Method Approach,” in November.

Rae Terpenning, senior lecturer in music, attended the National Flute Association Convention in Las Vegas where she was both a lecturer and a performer. Her presentation, “Magical Moyse: How to Teach Your Students to Have a Terrific Tone,” was part of an NFA Pedagogy Committee session. She was also one of eight flutists to perform Henry Brant's “Ghosts and Gargoyles” for the closing ceremonies.

Robert Stivers, professor of religion

Chuck Bergman, English professor, has received more recognition for his book, “Red Delta: Fighting for Life at the End of the Colorado River.” He received the 2003 Washington State Book Award and the Southwest Book Award.



© Scene 2004  •  Pacific Lutheran University  •  Spring 2004

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